In 1988, over 25 years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that discrimination against pregnant women is a form of discrimination on the basis of sex. The biological fact is simple; only women have the capacity to become pregnant and therefore discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is a form of sexual discrimination.
In Saskatchewan, as in other provinces in Canada, women cannot be discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy. This is upheld in both the prenatal and post-natal period. Women who are expecting or have recently given birth are entitled to reasonable accommodations that may be necessary because of their pregnancy or having a baby. In Saskatchewan, this included women who are breastfeeding as stated by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
One is left to ask them, why is it that after 25 years since this Court ruling, are breastfeeding women still being discriminated against? Experiences of Saskatchewan women being discriminated against in the last two years include mothers being asked to stop breastfeeding on public transit, a lifeguard at a public pool asking a nursing mother if she can go to the change room to nurse, in another pool in another city a mother was asked to get another towel to cover, another mom is asked to stop breastfeeding her infant while she is in a family restaurant and a mother was kicked out of a mall for nursing in the food court. The list has more, that was just a few. I am left to assume that the people who complained about these women and the people who asked them to stop nursing in public did not think of their actions as being discriminatory and least of all against women on the basis of their sex, but it is. We need more public awareness because these occurrences create barriers for all mothers and their babies. Furthermore, staff and establishments could be left paying a legal consequence because patrons have asked staff to intervene. Who gets to tell the patrons that they are indeed wrong and that the staff cannot and will not approach the mother and child? What if the staff does not know and they approach the mother and child? Legal consequences fall on whom then? The public needs to be aware of this law and the rights of the mother baby dyads as do businesses and their staff.
It would seem as if society is behind the law on this act, this biological act and need of all infants. It is time that society steps forward 25 years on this issue and catches up to the law. The evolution period of this law has had more than enough time. The laws can help shape societal norms and I, for one, think that it is time this law comes into play to help move the norm of infants and children breastfeeding in our society. It is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive and the laws definitely helped to raise people's awareness of the serious consequences of that behaviour.
The laws that protect people against discrimination on the basis of sex have been around for many decades in Canada. These laws are included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Constitution - the highest law in our country.
The fact is that women are still being asked to cover-up, move or leave venues, almost 25 years after the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision that discrimination around pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding is discrimination on the basis of sex. Societal norms in regards to breastfeeding have not changed to keep up with the law and it is time that it does.